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 V.17 No.46 | November 13 - 19, 2008 

Neverending Stories

Sore Legislators

Judge throws out the lawsuit against nonprofits brought by outgoing politicians

Sen. Shannon Robinson
Sen. Shannon Robinson

A lawsuit filed by state legislators who lost primaries this summer was dismissed. State Rep. Dan Silva, and state Sens. Shannon Robinson and James Taylor—all Democrats—brought the suit blaming certain nonprofits for their defeat.

Keegan King, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO), says it was a "sour grapes" lawsuit. "These legislators were upset because they lost, but the truth is, the voters voted them out.”

Rep. Dan Silva
Rep. Dan Silva

Robinson says the lawsuit wasn't just about him; it was about making sure the political process works. "This is a type of fraud," he says. He adds that the only way he and his fellow plaintiffs will see justice is by taking the case to the state Supreme Court.

Matt Brix, policy director of the Center for Civic Policy, which was named in the case, says the lawsuit was an attempt to "muzzle" nonprofits.

These legislators were upset because they lost, but the truth is, the voters voted them out.

Keegan King, executive director of New Mexico Youth Organized

Secretary of State Mary Herrera ordered NMYO in late August to register as a political action committee, and Attorney General Gary King said mailers the group sent out constituted political campaigning. The flyers addressed the voting records of certain candidates and who they received contributions from. If the nonprofits were to register as political committees, they could lose nonprofit status and be required to disclose funding sources.

Sen. James Taylor
Sen. James Taylor

District Judge Linda Vanzi threw the lawsuit out on Wednesday, writing in her ruling that it was important to point out what the outgoing legislators don't allege. "They do not allege that their names were left off the ballot, that the votes were miscounted, or the ballots misplaced," she wrote. "Nor do they allege that any voters were disenfranchised." Instead, she added, they claim there is a "widespread conspiracy" between nonprofits and successful primary candidates. The legislators did not properly plead an election contest, according to Vanzi.

We alleged fraud, and we proved a pattern of fraud, and that made the difference in the election.

Sen. Shannon Robinson

Robinson says the ruling came as no surprise. "We expected it, just knowing the judge's politics.” But he'll continue the fight, he says, "because these are significant issues."

King, NMYO director, says the case is faulty, and a Supreme Court hearing won’t change that. He's pleased with Vanzi's decision, he says, because if it had gone another way, it would have meant nonprofits couldn't educate the community on important issues. He adds that the ruling sets a national precedent, showing that nonprofits have a special place in democracy.

But Robinson says the electoral process has been corrupted by these kinds of activities. "We alleged fraud, and we proved a pattern of fraud, and that made the difference in the election."


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